Tchaikovsky’s adaptation of Marius Petipa’s Sleeping Beauty is widely regarded as one of the most technically challenging classical ballets ever choreographed. The story will be familiar to anyone who has seen the 1959 Disney film, though it is more faithful to the traditional Brothers Grimm fairy tale.
It tells the story of Aurora, a princess happily born to King and Queen Florestan XXIV after many childless years. At her christening, Aurora is blessed by six benevolent fairies, but she is also cursed by Carabosse, a seventh fairy who was uninvited. The curse dictates that Aurora will be pricked by a sewing needle and die. The Lilac fairy uses her own magic to alter the curse so the needle will put Aurora into an ageless sleep until she is awakened by a kiss of true love.
The curse comes to pass, of course, and the entire kingdom slumbers for one hundred years, when Prince Desiré arrives at the enchanted forest. With some help from the Lilac Fairy, Desiré defeats Carabosse, finds Aurora and lifts the curse. The ballet concludes with a wedding scene attended by many other popular Brother’s Grimm characters like Little Red Riding Hood, Tom Thumb, Puss in Boots and the Big Bad Wolf. Atlanta Ballet’s production of Beauty is fantastic. The dancers are expressive and technically superb. The elaborate costumes and sets are gorgeous. The Atlanta Ballet orchestra performed the score.
The prologue is the fairies time to shine. While the score is not as iconic as Tchaikovsky’s other ballets, there are a few lovely and familiar pieces like the waltz theme and The Atlanta Ballet Orchestra performed them splendidly, matching the tempo of the dancers without noticeably altering the music.
The prologue, which covers the christening scene, is essentially an act unto itself, and it is the fairies and character actors time to shine. Abigail Tan’s portrayal of the Lilac Fairy featured ephemeral movements, and her gestures were crisp. Peng-Yu Chen gave a stand-out performance with her vivacious Canari Fairy variation. Tara Lee stole the show as Carabosse, though. Her lines were sharp, and her dramatic gestures seethed with malevolence. Her ghouls also delivered comic buffoonery to give the mice from Nutcracker a run for their money.
Act 1 opens with a staple of classical ballet, happy peasants dancing a garland waltz in celebration. The princes who vie for Aurora’s affections had great individual technique, though their formations were a little askew. Kristine Necessary lit up the stage as Aurora with a smile that you could see from the rafters. Her precise, delicate technique paired with the relentlessly pretty choreography is almost too sweet to bear at times.
You could see a little bit of strain in her leg during the infamous Rose Adagio, but she kept her smile throughout all four excruciating, consecutive promenades. Her pantomime of the dreaded needle prick was also incredibly sharp. You would be surprised at how dramatic dropping a spool of thread can be.
The second act was Jacob Bush’s time to shine as Prince Desiré, and his technique was suitably bold and gallant. He was not as obviously expressive as Necessary, but his pantomimes call for him to be pensive and withdrawn, so it is hard to fault him. The highlight of the entire ballet was the frenzied, pas de deux duel between Desiré and Carabosse, as he struggles to turn her own knife against her. In a neat bit of stage magic, Carabosse melts into the stage with a puff of smoke as she is fatally stabbed. The transition is clean and organic.
After such a stirring scene, the fated kiss between Desiré and Aurora seemed somewhat anti-climactic. It was still convincing, however, and the pas that followed was suitably romantic, with the dancers flicking away the swirling haze and bringing down the curtain as Bush literally sweeps Necessary off her feet. The big wedding scene is similar to the Nutcracker’s second half in that it is parade of light-hearted celebratory dances, and a splendid mix of character acting and sharp technique.
The Gold and Gems double pas was exquisitely coordinated and the lady soloists were very sharp. The playful pas between the rakish Puss in Boots and the prissy White Cat was a lot of fun and garnered a few laughs from the audience.
Little Red Riding Hood displayed some precise and blistering pointe-work, and the Big Bad Wolf seemed to be having a great time. The fluttering bluebird pas was solid, though there have been more elaborate takes on the virtuoso solo variations.
The quick brisé volé sections were present and impressive, however. Brian Wallenberg’s Tom Thumb variation takes first prize. He displayed impressive ballon, wonderful timing and wore an infectious smile. Again, the very traditional grand pas between Aurora and her prince felt somewhat anticlimactic after the parade of playful character dances. Bush and Necessary are very well paired technically, though they lacked the sort of luminous chemistry required to truly and fully realize the tale’s legendary, eternal love. It would be interesting to compare them to the alternate cast featuring John Welker and Christine Winkler, who are husband and wife in real life.
If you are looking to introduce a loved one or a child to the pleasures of classical ballet, The Nutcracker is a more accessible entry point, being considerably briefer and boasting flashier, more easily appreciated choreography.
But if you are looking for an example of classical dancers who have mastered their craft of movement, or an unabashedly romantic way to spend Valentine’s Day weekend, Atlanta Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty is an excellent choice.